Five-year-old Izel Lopez-Daley has lofty dreams of being a superstar dancing nurse, possibly while wearing either a Wonder Woman outfit or a princess dress. She refuses to choose. She’s always had moves but her passion for medicine is borne from a lifetime spent in cancer treatment. Her chocolate brown eyes twinkle when she says, “I just want to help people… and dance!” These ideas go together naturally for this girl. When a friend finished his cancer treatment and had his bell ringing ceremony, Izel was there ready to celebrate with him! She knows just how tough the battle is.
At just 15 months old, during a visit to see her grandparents in Saskatoon, Izel began having fevers and her parents noticed blood in her diaper. Doctors quickly confirmed Izel had Wilms’ tumour – a kidney cancer that primarily affects children. She had her right kidney and a portion of her right lung removed after doctors noticed a suspicious nodule. Surgery was followed by three months of chemotherapy. “We thought everything was in the rearview mirror,” her mother Rachelle recalls. But two years later, Izel’s MRI showed “something.” Rachelle had accepted a job offer in Ottawa around the same time and is grateful she did. “We had been living in Waterloo,” Rachelle says. “If I hadn’t taken the job, we wouldn’t be at CHEO!”
Izel’s diagnosis changed to recurrent Wilms. She had relapsed and required full abdominal radiation for an inoperable tumour and chemotherapy. The blows kept coming. Izel’s liver was failing. There was evidence her cancer had metastasized. Treatment was stopped for a month and a new treatment regime implemented, with the same devastating result. “They described it as walking a tightrope,” Rachelle explains. “If they leaned too far toward treating the cancer, her liver would cease to function. If they gave her liver too much time to recover, they could lose control of the cancer.” It was an impossible spot to be in.
“I used to be so tired from just sitting around,” Rachelle recalls, her voice cracking. “But if you are somehow able to accept what’s going on you can find a lot of happiness here too.” In the midst of the uncertainty, Rachelle learned she was pregnant. It was a sliver of light in the darkness.
Dr. Donna Johnston and a team of experts created a specialized protocol for Izel. It worked! Just three days after her baby brother, was born, the family got more good news! Izel’s scans showed the treatment was effective. Ollin slept soundly while she rang the bell on April 30, 2019 marking the end of her treatment. Visits now are for follow up scans, monitoring her kidney and bloodwork.
How does Izel describe her time fighting for her life at CHEO? With a single word: “FUN!” The child life specialists, nurses and doctors are always on board for fun. “Her first liver biopsy, we came back and her room was decorated like a spaceship and her doll dressed like an astronaut,” Rachelle laughs. During a three-hour pass on a 21-day admission, the door to her room was papered over and she had to burst through it to get back in. Throw in epic prank battles with the nurses for good measure and you’ve got CHEO’s special kind of FUN.
Izel is also excited to be a part of the CN Cycle Dream Team and looking forward to the adventures that it brings: TV appearances, a photo shoot and taking the training wheels off her bike. It’s the perfect superstar dancing nurse training ground!